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A Conversation with DentaQuest’s Ambassador for Black Maternal Health Week

As part of National Minority Health Month — a time in which we also recognize Black Maternal Health Week (April 11 – 17) — it’s important to elevate awareness about maternal health disparities and the role oral health providers can play in mitigating our nation’s maternal health crisis. Along with highlighting a collection of issues, stories and providers, DentaQuest joins a diverse group of national business and health leaders invested in the health and longevity of Black mothers as the sole oral health sponsor of the Black Maternal Health Conference (BMHC). We proudly add our voice to the discussions that elevate maternal health and celebrate Black women.

In this blog post, we connect with Dr. Amber Bonnaig, DentaQuest’s Dental Director in Georgia and DentaQuest’s ambassador for Black Maternal Health Week.

Why is oral health especially important during pregnancy?

This is a topic that has needed some visibility for a while. Oral health is essential throughout a person’s life, and particularly during pregnancy. Far too many women, especially low-income women and women of color, lack access to comprehensive and affordable dental care. It is our goal to eliminate that disparity.

What do pregnant women need to know about the health of their mouth and teeth during pregnancy? 

New moms have a lot to think about during pregnancy, but they should not overlook their dental health. Pregnancy is a time of big changes — for the body, emotions and mouth.  

As many as half of all women develop gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, between the second and eighth months of their pregnancy. Hormones make the gums more easily irritated by plaque and can cause them to be red and sore, or bleed. It is important to gently brush twice a day for two minutes and floss between the teeth once a day to keep the plaque and bacteria at bay.  

Are dental checkups safe during pregnancy? 

Getting a dental checkup during pregnancy is safe and important for the pregnant person’s dental health and overall health. It is good to take care of cleanings and have cavities filled before the baby is born. And yes, dental X-rays are safe, too. For example, oral health providers cover baby bumps with a protective apron that minimizes exposure to the abdomen. 

Can you talk a bit about health disparities and maternal health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Black women are between two and three times more likely to die from childbirth than their white counterparts. Women from other communities of color, including Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian/Pacific Islander also experience maternal outcomes disparities.  

Women from communities of color are more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy because they are more likely to have an existing chronic illness. Black women have faced structural inequities that have limited their ability to access primary care, or at least access it in a meaningful way. This has led to poor early detection of chronic illness and limited chronic disease management, according to experts.

The good news is that when moms get dental care during pregnancy, their children have a lower risk of developing dental caries (cavities), the most common chronic disease of childhood. A healthy mouth improves mom’s general health and reduces the chance of passing cavity-causing bacteria from her mouth to the growing baby.  

What solutions might be on the horizon?

There are several bills moving through Congress that should help. Their goal is to improve access to care for pregnant people from low-income households. I am hopeful that these get passed and funded. 

Last month, senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Oral Health for Moms Act, which would expand Medicaid oral health coverage for women before delivering and for a period after they give birth.  

And Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021. This legislation would address Black maternal health disparities with investments in social determinants of health, community health and health equity data collection.

Why are you so passionate about this topic?

Dental care is one of our nation’s greatest unmet health needs, especially in communities of color. The racial, ethnic and economic disparities that make accessing oral health care a challenge add to the problem of maintaining a healthy mouth to support a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth. This is an important conversation for all of us — pregnant or not. We need to continue to shine a light on the need for dependable access to quality oral health care.